BAGHDAD, IRAQ, OCT. 15 -- Diplomatic efforts to bring a peaceful end to the Persian Gulf crisis are deadlocked despite the continuous comings and goings of would-be mediators, according to diplomatic sources.
Although the United States and Iraq both proclaim that they want to avoid war, the two countries remain in a standoff that Arab and other go-betweens have been unable to resolve, they said. The sources, who have access to recent diplomatic exchanges, said Washington and its allies continue to insist that Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait before any negotiations, while Iraq continues to insist that Kuwait is nonnegotiable unless there is progress on the Arab-Israeli dispute.
The exchanges have taken on a harsher tone, as President Bush today described reported Iraqi atrocities in occupied Kuwait as a case of "Hitler revisited," adding, "but remember, when Hitler's war ended there were the Nuremberg trials." Sunday night, Iraqi Information Minister Latif Nassif Jassim said flatly, in response to reporters' questions, that "there is no room for any compromise on Kuwait."
The result is an absence of substantive contacts while both sides talk of war and build up military forces in and around the contested area, the diplomatic sources pointed out. "Even if an opportunity were to arise, it could be lost," said one official involved in some of the diplomatic contacts. He warned of the risk of "misunderstandings and misreadings" in the diplomatic vacuum.
The lack of movement in recent weeks has come as a disappointment to some Arab officials who were buoyed by speeches from Bush and French President Francois Mitterrand at the United Nations suggesting more flexible approaches to negotiations and growing reluctance to get involved in a shooting war that would be costly to all sides.
These Arab officials, along with some of their European colleagues, thus viewed the autumn as a time for intense diplomatic activity to head off hostilities before the United States and its allies completed their regional military buildup and lost patience with U.N. economic sanctions.
The stall has not developed for lack of Arab diplomatic contacts. King Hussein met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in Amman two days ago to review the situation yet again. The Jordanian monarch has worked with King Hassan of Morocco, President Chadli Bendjedid of Algeria and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat in search of a compromise or the promise of one.
Arafat, meanwhile, met Sunday with President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and hours later flew to Tunis for a session with Foreign Minister Roland Dumas of France. A high-ranking Soviet envoy, Yevgeny Primakov, held what Soviet diplomats described as exploratory talks here with Saddam last week. Even Sweden has offered its services as a mediator.
But, the sources said, the multiple contacts have made no progress because both sides in the dispute -- Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition demanding its withdrawal from Kuwait -- have remained camped on their positions. "The present stage is a stage of review and a return to studying plans and orientations," Aziz told reporters in Amman.
Information Minister Jassim stated the overt Iraqi position more bluntly in a discussion with foreign reporters Sunday night when he said there was "no room for any compromise," and added, "Kuwait is the 19th province of Iraq and this fact will not be changed whatsoever even if we fight a long war for that."
Jassim said even Saddam's Aug. 12 declaration linking settlement of the Kuwait crisis to parallel settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute should be considered on the basis of Kuwait's remaining a part of Iraq forever. A European diplomat suggested this reflected an assumption that, since Israel is unlikely to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, Iraq will never have to withdraw from Kuwait even if its effort to link the two issues is successful.
Another senior diplomat familiar with Iraqi thinking said, however, that Iraq's rigid position should be considered instead as the opening gambit in what it hopes will become comprehensive negotiations during which all sides make concessions. His portrayal of the Iraqi position echoed comments from Jordanian and PLO officials who insist Saddam is more willing to negotiate than his government's public stand indicates.
But Arab mediators such as Arafat and Hussein have been rebuffed so far in Baghdad, the diplomat added, because they sought to start the negotiating process with conditions under which Iraq would withdraw from Kuwait. Iraq will begin to deal only when their proposals also contain pledges from the United States and its allies on resolution of the 23-year-old Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, he added.
Similarly, the official said, Primakov was told Iraq is not interested in negotiating with the Soviets because "they are not the party." The United States, as the nation heading the buildup in and around Saudi Arabia to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait, must also be the interlocutor for any peace contacts, he explained.
Jassim specifically denied a Soviet report that Saddam told Primakov he would consider withdrawing from part of Kuwait, retaining only the islands of Warba and Bubiyan and the Rumaila oil fields along the Iraq-Kuwait border.
The Iraqis "are ready to give very many things, but as is the normal procedure here, they are starting out at a very high price," explained a regional diplomat with long experience as an observer of Saddam's Baath Party government.
In any case, the sources said, Iraqi and other Arab officials believe their insistence on linking the Kuwait crisis with the Arab-Israeli dispute has been reinforced by last week's killing of at least 19 Palestinians in Jerusalem and Israel's refusal to cooperate with a Security Council resolution ordering a U.N. inquiry mission on the Palestinians' situation under Israeli occupation.
Israel's announcement provoked immediate comparisons here with Iraq's refusal to comply with recent Security Council resolutions calling for withdrawal from Kuwait.
In that context, Morocco's King Hassan, who has dispatched troops to Saudi Arabia and is depicted on posters here as a "Zionist agent," attracted favorable notice with his statement last week that, since the Jerusalem killings Oct. 8, the Persian Gulf crisis has become linked with the Arab-Israeli dispute no matter how much the United States and its allies try to avoid it.